WASHINGTON, DC – The U.S. Army Special Operations Command will double in size by 2017, said its commander, compared to what it was before the war on terror.
The demand for Special Operations Forces (SOF), however, has almost quadrupled, said USASOC commander, Lt. Gen. John F. Mulholland Jr., Tuesday during the first-ever panel on special operations at the Association of the U.S. Army’s Annual Meeting and Exposition.
“The operations tempo for the force has skyrocketed,” Mulholland said, later adding that not even the drawdown in Iraq has reduced the number of special operations Soldiers there. He said the deployment ratio for SOF is the highest in the Army, with Soldiers deployed more than they are at home station.
“We will never build enough capacity within the force to meet the demand for the skills and disciplines we bring,” Mulholland said.
USASOC is adding a battalion to each of its five active-duty Special Forces groups, along with its two in the National Guard. The Ranger Regiment stood up a Special Troops Battalion a couple of years ago and additional companies are being planned for each of the Ranger battalions.
What was only a single active-duty civil affairs battalion a few years ago has grown to four battalions, now comprising a full brigade at Fort Bragg, N.C. And the 95th Civil Affairs Brigade plans to add a fifth battalion next year. In addition, plans call for adding a second active-duty CA brigade in the future.
Psychological operations underwent a change this month from PSYOPS to military information support operations, or MISO. The 4th PSYOPS Group became the 4th MISG and the 9th PSYOPS Battalion became the 9th MISB. In addition, the 2006 Quadrennial Defense Review calls for more PSYOPS companies, but a USASOC spokesman said that growth depends on future funding.
Overall, the budget for U.S. Special Operations Command — the joint organization of which USASOC is a part — should triple by 2017, compared to what it was before Sept. 11, 2001, Mulholland projected. He also said USASOC actually comprises about half of SOCOM.
USASOC now has about 5,000 Soldiers and civilians deployed around the world in more than 50 countries. Small teams still train foreign militaries around the globe, but nowhere are SOF missions more in demand than in Afghanistan, Mulholland said.
Missions in Afghanistan range from high-end, direct-action against insurgents to working with tribal elders in villages, Mulholland said. SOF helped train the Afghan light infantry and they’re now training the Afghan Special Forces. Every type of mission in the SOF quiver is being conducted nightly in Afghanistan, he said.
High in demand for night operations are the modified helicopters of the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment. Not enough MH-46s are available for the missions, and conventional aircraft must sometimes be used, officials said.
Over the next two years, USASOC plans to stand up an additional MH-47 company, said Brig. Gen. Kevin Mangum who recently transitioned from being deputy commanding general of the 1st Armored Division and U.S. Division-Center in Iraq to standing up a new Special Operations Aviation Command. Mangum said he arrived at Fort Bragg less than two weeks ago to stand up the new command.
“Our command will bring more capacity,” he said, explaining that it will have responsibility for training, research and development, resourcing, and manning. What it will not do initially, though, is bring more helicopters to the fight, Mangum said. But he added that his command will free up the 160th SOAR to conduct its missions.
SOF is rubbing off on the conventional force, when it comes to capability and standards, said Lt. Gen. Daniel P. Bolger, Army G-3/5/7. He said special operations forces set the standard and challenge the rest of the force to meet it.
SOF also provides innovation and inspiration to the entire force, said Lt. Gen. Charles H. Jacoby Jr., now the J-5 for the Joint Staff and recently the corps commander in Iraq.
“They shared their stuff, they shared their people, they shared their experiences,” he said about SOF interacting with the general-purpose force. He added that SOF should no longer ever be considered a “niche” capability, explaining that they are now “fundamental.” Maj. Gen. James L. Huggins Jr., commander of the 82nd Airborne Division, said his Soldiers sometimes, “bird dog” for SOF and often work together with special operations forces as a team. Some of his Soldiers eventually decide to cross over to special operations, he said, but added that SOF gives back to the regular force ten-fold.
Command Sgt. Maj. Jeffrey Mellinger of Army Materiel Command was also on the panel. He was a Ranger in the 1970s, and said young Soldiers back then looked at SOF differently. Now there is more trust and teamwork, he said, and young Soldiers look to Special Operations Forces for an example — “for what right looks like,” he said.
One proof that Special Operations has become more integrated into the regular Army is the existence of the SOF panel itself at the AUSA annual meeting, several of the panel members said.
“A lot of things that began in Special Operations are now ingrained into the Army,” Mellinger added.